Know how the body works. When your body is injured — cut, scraped, pierced — it responds by initiating blood clotting to protect the wound and reduce the loss of blood. Once the wound is properly clotted, the site will get bombarded with the right balance of oxygen and nutrients via your blood vessels to start the healing process. Microphages, or white blood cells, will help fight infection and your body will start to produce collagen to lay the groundwork of the tissue rebuilding process. But none of this occurs at its optimal levels without you taking care of yourself from the inside out. Inadequate blood and oxygen levels increases healing time. High blood pressure, diabetes, obesity and other diseases exacerbate problems and can lead to chronic wounds that fail to heal. Thankfully, much of this is preventable, even without the assistance of medication.
Eat to heal. Conventional wisdom says to eat healthy in order to avoid looking like Jabba the Hutt, but consuming nutrient-rich (as opposed to calorie-rich) foods does more than just keep you slim — it helps you be healthy for healing. Here’s what your body needs in order to decrease your healing time. Bring your appetite, and, essentially, eat nearly everything except processed foods.
Vitamin C-rich foods: Vitamin C helps your body produce protein that’s good for your skin, blood vessels, bones, cartilage and ligaments. And since your body doesn’t possess the ability to produce its own Vitamin C, consuming Vitamin C-rich foods on a daily basis is vital to healing — think citrus foods like oranges, grapefruit, limes, tangerines. Also include berries, papayas, kiwi fruit, bell peppers, darker leafy greens, kiwis, broccoli, tomatoes and papaya. Of course, consuming them fresh is ideal.
Vitamin A-rich foods: Your all-important white blood cells need Vitamin A to come to life, and white blood cells aid in healing injuries beyond just open wounds. Vitamin A-rich foods include sweet potatoes, carrots, dark leafy greens, lettuce, dried apricots, winter squash, cantaloupe, bell peppers, tropical fruits, fish and liver.
Zinc-rich foods: Zinc isn’t just something that clings to an old coin after years buried in the sand; it’s one of the essential minerals of the healing process, since it boosts your body’s immune system and prevents infection. It also expedites the use of fat and protein in your diet to aid in healing your injuries. Foods with healthy amounts of zinc include lean beef and chicken, crab, oysters, yogurt and cheese.
Protein-rich foods: Protein isn’t just for bodybuilders — it’s vital to getting you back in action. When your body takes a hit, its need for healthy protein increases, since 40 percent of your body’s protein is found in skeletal muscle, where most of your lean muscle mass exists. Lean muscle mass is crucial to your metabolism and your ability to heal. Protein-rich foods include lean meats, especially grass-fed beef and chicken, as well as eggs and fish.
Omega-3 fatty acid-rich foods: Dining on wild-caught sockeye salmon is apparently conducive to improving your healing abilities since it’s rich in Omega-3 fatty acids. This nutrient helps your body reduce inflammation, not just from inflammatory foods, but also injuries. It reduces swelling at the site of the injury and even has pain-reducing properties. Down some high-quality Omega-3s, and you may even be able to forego some NSAIDs like Advil and Tylenol, which frankly aren’t so great for you over the long haul, anyway. Omega-3 rich foods include salmon (wild caught only), tuna, flaxseeds and walnuts.
Get more sleep. Eating is key to speedy healing, but without the adequate amount of sleep your body needs (seven or more hours, uninterrupted, is a good target), you’ll be struggling to heal. During sleep, your body goes into a restorative mode where cells start to repair themselves and your immune system gets a boost. Evidence shows that sleep deprivation hurts your immune system and can lead to all sorts of illnesses like colds, the flu, heart disease and even the kind of insulin resistance that leads to type-2 diabetes. So, when you’re injured, take to the pillows and sheets and make friends with Mr. Sandman.
Make more rest a priority: When you’re injured, cut out superfluous activities that won’t help your body recuperate. Sitting on the couch at 2:00 a.m. to watch Alien Vs. Predator for the fifteenth time isn’t going to help you. Go to bed earlier than you normally would, and even take naps if your schedule allows it. The more rest you get, the better.
Improve your sleep quality: Just because you “sleep” for 10 hours doesn’t mean you maximized your rest. In order to give your body the healing boost it needs, avoid things like TV, smartphones or anything that emits bright light. Pull the room-darkening shades, turn the temperature down and pop in the earplugs. Do an abbreviated hibernation, and you’ll find that your body will thank you.
Increase testosterone levels. Testosterone isn’t just a chest-thumping virility hormone, it’s vital to the healing process. Unfortunately, as men age, the body produces less and less of it. Essential to both muscle and bone density, naturally occurring testosterone also plays a key role in the production of red blood cells that carry oxygen and nutrients to your injury. Boosting your testosterone levels isn’t achieved by downing pills or consuming some gimmicky drink you discovered in the back of a magazine. Natural methods are often best.
Eat and lift: You can increase the levels of testosterone in your body by consuming good fat and cholesterol, high-quality protein and zinc. Reducing sugar intake also helps by reducing insulin levels (lower insulin leads to better testosterone production). It’s also helpful — when healthy — to perform intense exercise regularly, including high-intensity interval and strength training, both of which help increase the level of testosterone in your body. When sick, working out doesn’t necessarily make you worse, but it can lower your immunity levels and it detracts from essential rest. But working out when healthy can help speed up recovery when sickness strikes.